The outcome of the Assembly elections in Maharastra and Haryana has surprised the observers in India. Though the BJP won, the party didn’t win the majority on its own in both the states. And in this the outcome went against several exit polls which had given the BJP a landslide victory. The saffron party has now had to depend entirely on the support of the other parties to form the government: Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which is also the BJP’s ally and JJP in Haryana which has got the post of deputy chief ministership in return for supporting the BJP. The BJP will continue to rule the states but the message from the two elections is loud and clear: Hindutva cannot be entirely banked upon as the game-changer in the electoral contests across the country. In Haryana and Maharashtra, the bread and butter issues too resonated with the people. The national economy which is currently witnessing a slowdown is beginning to bite.
But the BJP’s game-plan in the two states was to focus on its ideological successes like the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. And it did appear that given the widespread popularity of the move in the country, the polls in the two states will be a walkover for the party. Such a predictable political prospect had sapped the two elections of their interest and drama. The political scene in the states too looked muted, largely devoid of the political noise by the opposition. However, people have themselves stood by the Congress and lend it back the dignity of being an opposition party.
But the Congress and the wider opposition will have to go a long way before being a credible match to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So far as winning elections is concerned, the PM record so far has been a phenomenal success. But much of his success has also been the result of the absence of a credible ideological challenge from Congress. Congress, with all its pan-India profile is far from filling in the space of a credible opposition. And this is a tragedy. For more than twenty years that the PM Modi has been in the ascendant in India’s politics, Congress despite its claim to being India’s pre-eminent secular party has never posed an ideological challenge to Modi. Besides, the party’s so called secular vision for the country is vague and uninspiring. However, the challenge for Congress has now gotten even bigger. It doesn’t only have to fare well in the polls but also that the party rises up to the challenge of the PM Modi’s overarching persona and also present its own vision of India. Or re-invent, so to say, the historical vision of Congress. Ditto for the wider opposition. The hope for Congress and the other opposition parties is not only to get together but also forge a persuasive alternative narrative.